By Rick Lauber
Older adults who become unable to handle their own affairs can become frustrated, angry or confused and others must, often tactfully, become involved. When my father lost his memory and his ability to talk as a result of Alzheimer’s disease, I was left to serve as his advocate—essentially becoming his eyes, ears and voice.
Protecting someone’s quality of life and managing their personal and business affairs is a significant task for a family member or friend to take on. It doesn’t, however, have to be as complex or daunting as you might think. Taken from my own caregiving experiences, here are some recommendations.
Apply for guardianship, trusteeship, or both:
Guardianship and trusteeship are two separate legal processes that allow you to manage a dependent adult’s affairs. Guardianship lets you to manage a person’s personal affairs (e.g., choosing accommodation, hiring care providers), while trusteeship permits you to manage their financial concerns (e.g., paying bills, overseeing bank accounts, hiring a financial advisor). Having guardianship does not automatically grant you trusteeship and vice versa. A lawyer can advise you with either role.
If you’re granted guardianship or trusteeship, be sure to keep spare copies of the court orders handy. Better yet, scan and save them on your home computer so that you can print or email copies, if needed.
Ask questions: Talk to everyone involved with your loved one’s care. Remember, when advocating for someone else, there are no foolish questions. Ask until you fully understand. As a former co-caregiver, I carried around a notebook and pen, and made sure I took it to every appointment. I wrote down responses, and returned to them later to ensure my complete understanding before reviewing my to-do list. Thankfully, many phones now have a voice recorders, so I suggest taking a few minutes immediately following each appointment (so that you don’t miss anything) to record your thoughts and comments shared.
Peer into the parental closet: I’m not asking you to look for skeletons! Rather, this is fully practical advice that can help make sure your loved one is being well looked after. Check that their room (if not their closet) is swept/vacuumed and mopped daily so that germs don’t pose a health risk. If they are in a care facility then also check the facility’s public washrooms, stairwells and food-service areas. Dirt can accumulate under furniture as well. We attached small wheels to the bottom of a bookcase in Dad’s room so that cleaners could easily roll the bookcase aside to clean.
Plan sporadic visits: Years ago, when Dad was alive, I would stop in to see him every Sunday afternoon—like clockwork. But I certainly didn’t stop there! There were intermittent visits as well. By dropping in sporadically, I felt better able to see any inconsistencies with my father’s care (or even that of other residents).
Schedule visits around resident mealtimes. These can be hectic times at a care facility. Is your loved one eating a full meal and getting any help necessary?
Monitor health and grooming: While you may not have the medical knowledge to diagnose a problem, it can be easy to identify a person in pain. Does your loved one limp when walking? Are they grimacing when bending over? Keep your eyes open for any unexplained sores, cuts or bruises on their body. Watch to make sure personal support workers are managing to keep your parent groomed and clean. Are clothes coming back from the laundry or are they getting lost? Monitor the bathing schedule—how often are baths or showers provided? I also routinely check my father’s chin stubble to confirm that he’s been shaved.
Insist on regular updates: Keep open lines of communication with your loved one’s care facility or care providers. If your relative has been moved to another room, isn’t eating or needs a change to their medical prescription, you will want to know. Providing the care facility or care provider with your up-to-date contact details is important—but it is even more important to be proactive and call in regularly.
Meet with management: I was able to schedule meetings with the facility’s management to talk about Dad’s ongoing health, ask questions and, if necessary, air grievances. If you do need to raise an issue, be sure to create a paper trail. I would always send a quick email to the facility’s manager following our meeting that read something like: “Thank you for meeting with us today. As discussed, I understand that you have noted [whatever concern] and have recommended [whatever answer].”
If follow-up is necessary, state a date when you will be back in touch for further discussion. Remember to copy other family members on your emails and perhaps print out copies to save.
Look beyond your immediate resources: As a caregiver, you need to speak up for your loved one. But if you are having doubts about your own ideas or need help with the legality of policies, care costs or human rights issues, then there are a number of local and provincial organizations you can turn to.
Take advocating seriously, and let your loved one’s facility staff or professional caregivers know that you are serious about doing so.
Rick Lauber is a published author and freelance writer. He has written, Caregiver’s Guide for Canadians and The Successful Caregiver’s Guide (Self-Counsel Press). Visit ricklauber.com.